Whether you want to try your hand at Apple Pie or Chicken Fat and Pea Pie, How to Build a Better Pie (Quarry Books, 2012) by Millicent Souris provides the tips for flaky crusts, toppers and all things in between. Learn the skills, practice the techniques, master the recipes and build yourself a better pie. This homemade Chicken Pot Pie Recipe is excerpted from Chapter 6, “Savory Pies, Meat Pies, Pot Pies, Oh, My!”
Chicken pot pie is synonymous with love for many, or just eating your feelings. It is iconic. Read this entire recipe from start to finish. You need to understand what you are getting into.
These pies are not difficult, but it is imperative to accomplish more than one thing at a time. For this recipe, you must cook the chicken before it goes in the pie. You also cook the vegetables and make the gravy. Organize your tasks well and you can accomplish these things at the same time. If you only do one thing at a time in the kitchen, you never get anything done.
This sauce is very important for chicken pot pie. Don’t even try to do it without.
A roux is a thickener that is equal parts fat and flour. This fat can be unsalted butter, chicken schmaltz, bacon renderings. As food becomes more expensive, it is great to be able to use more and more by-products from what we make. You’re not just cooking the chicken for pot pie, you are making stock from its bones that will then be used for the sauce for the pie, and the fat skimmed from the top of the stock can be used for the roux for the gravy. Or you can use bacon grease. The fat influences the flavor of the sauce.
There are different kinds of roux, and for this one you want to get it a dirty blonde color. The longer a roux cooks the darker it gets and the more impact it has on the food. The point of this roux is to provide thickening and a bit of depth.
The other things you need to make this sauce are stock, white wine, and heavy cream or milk. The stock is the main liquid, and the cream and wine complement with their own flavors and textures. The same ratio employed for a mirepoix (onion: 2 to carrot: 1 and celery: 1) works here (stock: 2 to cream: 1 and wine: 1). You can use any stock, but for the sake of chicken use chicken stock. The best pot for this is a Dutch oven or a big, somewhat deep cast iron. A roux really needs cast iron to cook well since it is so viscous.
How to Make Roux
6 tablespoons (75 g) fat
6 tablespoons (50 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (175 ml) heavy cream or milk, room temperature
3/4 cup (175 ml) white wine, room temperature
2 cups (475 ml) stock, room temperature
Place your cast iron over medium heat and put the fat in. As it melts, whisk the flour in batches so it can be incorporated into the fat as you go. This helps to cut down on the whisking lumps out on the back end. Keep whisking the roux as it is mixed. If it bubbles a bit too much, turn the flame down. A roux is a thick entity that can burn easily. Keep whisking the roux. Turn it on low. Even though the flour is mixed in with the fat it is still separate, so the roux has to keep on cooking to get the flour flavor out.
There is a rawness of the flour that you can smell and taste, but beware, because hot roux is a burning affair. To understand when the flour cooks out and this concoction becomes a roux takes practice. Luckily this regards a roux, which is commonplace in cooking, so there should be ample moments to learn this. The entire cooking time for this roux is about 10 minutes.
Add the room-temperature stock to the roux. Always add in a slow, steady stream to a roux while whisking; it cuts down on clumping and ensures that the liquid is absorbed. Next add the white wine and heavy cream in the same manner. Whisk everything together and let it set for a bit, whisking every now and again. The gravy should be over a medium heat, or even a bit higher if you are attending to it. It needs to reduce, and the disparate flavors need to cook together. If you can still taste the separate components of a sauce then it is still raw and needs to cooks longer. This gravy takes about 25 minutes to cook. To find the sweet spot between too runny and too thick: take your spatula or spoon out of the gravy and swipe your finger across it. The line you create should keep its shape and the sauce should be a delicate balance between translucent and opaque. Since it will cook and reduce a bit more in the pie, it is better to err on the side of a little thin rather than really thick. Season to taste. Gravy without salt and pepper is just a very loose, fat texture. It’s not worth it.
Cooking the Chicken and Making the Stock
Chicken and Stock
2 tablespoons (28 ml) olive oil
1 onion, medium dice
4 pounds (1.8 kg) chicken, preferably air chilled
3 stalks celery, medium dice
3 medium-size carrots, medium dice
water to cover
stems from a bunch of parsley (the leaves will go in the pot pie)
sprig of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons (10 g) whole black peppercorns
Just as there is a proper vessel for everything, there is a proper method in which to prepare chicken for a specific dish. Chicken is amazingly versatile; it can be roasted on high heat, deep-fried, pan-fried, braised, smoked, stewed, and even stuck on a beer can and put on a grill. Each way has its appropriate uses. For pot pie, if you have a whole chicken, put it in a pot with water. At the same time you are making stock for the gravy.
Heat the olive oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat and add the onions when it’s hot. Stir it and when it just becomes fragrant, add the rest of the mirepoix. Let it sauté for a few minutes. Salt the chicken inside and out and put in the stockpot. Cover with cold water and add the parsley stems, thyme, and peppercorns. The stock will begin to bubble after about 25 minutes. As this happens, a dirty foam will collect on the surface of the liquid. Get a ladle and discard it. You are now skimming the scum. Skim it all before it comes to a boil and reincorporates the scum into the stock. Cover the pot immediately with a lid and turn the burner off.
After 30 minutes check the chicken. Pull on the drumstick with tongs; it should be very wiggly. Pull the chicken out and let it cool until you can pick it. Take out the skin and bones, put back in the stockpot, and let it simmer for another hour. Shred your chicken into good pieces, not too chunky and nothing like cat food. Strain your stock and reserve 2 cups (475 ml) for gravy. Stock freezes really well or keeps in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
The chicken is good and the stock is made. One 4-pound (1.8 kg) chicken yields 3 to 4 cups (675 to 900 g) of shredded meat, packed a bit.
The ratio of onions to carrots and celery should be even; this is a classic French mirepoix. It’s used in stocks, soups, sauces, and braises. When you cut a mirepoix it’s important for the vegetables to be the same size so they cook at the same time. These vegetables are an important part of the pot pie. They need to have some guts to counter the meat, so cut them in a large dice.
Heat 4 tablespoons (64 g) of butter, olive oil, or some other fat in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them until translucent, about 10 minutes. The longer you cook onions the more they change, becoming sweeter and something completely different from their raw reality. Once they are soft and fragrant, add the celery, carrots, and peas. Mix together. Continue until they are just soft. Add the 3 cups (675 g) of the shredded chicken, mix together, and then add the gravy. Mix it all together and taste for seasoning. Salt? Freshly ground pepper? These two things separate food that is simple and all right from food that is simple and delicious. Let cool before putting into the pie crust.
Chicken Pot Pie Recipe
Basic Pie Crust, chilled
4 tablespoons (60 ml) fat or olive oil
3 onions, large dice
1/2 bunch celery, large dice
4 medium-size carrots, large dice
2 cups (300 g) English peas
1 cup (110 g) potatoes, large dice (optional)
3 cups (420 g) shredded chicken gravy
1 lightly beaten egg or 3 tablespoons (45 ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (19 g) sea salt
deep 9 1/2-inch (24 cm) glass pie plate or 9-inch (23 cm) cast iron pan
pie bird (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7).
Roll out your chilled bottom crust to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick. It should be about 13 inches (33 cm) in diameter. Place in your pie plate or cast iron. Trim the edges so there is no more than 1/4 inch (6 mm) of overhang. Lift and crimp the overhang along the rim of the pie pan. Chill bottom crust in the refrigerator or freezer.
Chop up a bunch of parsley leaves and mix it in the chilled filling. Pull out the chilled top crust from the refrigerator and roll out in the same manner and thickness. Get the pie plate or cast iron out of the refrigerator. If using a pie bird, place it, beak up, in the middle of the bottom crust and spoon the filling in around it. If not using a pie bird, put the filling in the crust. Place the filled pie pan adjacent to the top crust and treat it the same way, quickly flip it in half, and lift on top of the pie. Lift the other half over the pie. If there is a pie bird, just punch its beak through the top crust to vent. Lift the edges of the top crust up so the crust sits on top of the filling, not just stretched across it.
Trim the edges to be flush with the bottom crust and crimp them together. Cut slits in the top crust even if you do use a pie bird, brush the top crust with the wash, and sprinkle it with sea salt. Put in the preheated oven and bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Yield: 1 pie (8 servings)
More pie recipes
Check out more of these delicious recipes from How to Build a Better Pie.
Reprinted with permission from How to Build a Better Pie, by Millicent Souris, published by Quarry Books, 2012.